You Have a Mission
So this mom said to several friends, “Look, while we’re out there, once in a while send us a J. C. Penney catalog. We’ll try to not let things get too out of hand, to where we’re wearing aborigine lap-laps and dashikis or binding our children’s feet.” Okay. So for five years, this mom carefully looked through the catalogs, and made sure they kept their wardrobes up to date.
Finally the grand moment came when their homecoming plane landed at LAX after the many years in the wilderness. And as this mom and dad and the children walked through the airport, they could just feel people’s eyes on them. Staring, almost pointing, just burning a hole of ridicule right through them. And the mom was nearly in tears. They got down to Baggage Claim where her own mother was, and burst into tears. “I’m so embarrassed,” she sobbed. “Everybody was staring. Do we really look that pathetic, that missionary-ish?” And the grandma was very comforting. “No, honey,” she said. “You don’t look that different from everybody else. People just aren’t used to seeing Caucasian Americans carry their suitcases on top of their heads.”
Some of you have perhaps been on mission trips where you see the grinding poverty and the human misery others endure as their daily lot in life. You’ve seen the irony of a comfortable Western hotel and a tasty breakfast buffet for the visitors from America, and a few hundred yards away there is nothing but the shanties and the scourge of crime and prostitution.
When you ride through that grit and grime in your air-conditioned taxi, you find yourself thinking: it’s just a complete, cosmic lucky roulette game of chance that caused us to be born in California or Texas instead of in a dirty back room in those slums. We could just as easily have been born in relentless poverty, born of a Buddhist or Muslim or animist or atheist background, born with no educational opportunities, born in a culture of ignorance and fear.
Instead, most of us have grown up in relative affluence. Because an egg and a sperm cell came together here instead of there, we have lived lives of racial advantages, economic privileges, spiritual riches. There are people who never leave the pitiful existence of poverty, and some of us glided to church this morning in well-upholstered comfort.
Now, God knew all of these things before the foundations of the world. I don’t believe God ordains all of these circumstances, because then there wouldn’t be free will and natural laws. But He knew that you and I would be born and that we would live on the privileged side of the scales. And as we’ve studied together here during these weeks of exploring the eternal purposes of our heavenly Father, it’s clear that we’re now called to give back. To do extra. To serve with extra diligence, if our purses are fuller than other people’s.
I remember reading where Robert Kennedy, JFK’s younger brother, was campaigning for President in 1968. And he was talking with a classroom filled with medical students, people about to head into lucrative careers. In the room there was this atmosphere of class resentment over his proposals to help the poor, to provide health insurance for everybody, of making sure the rising tide lifted all boats. And finally he just stopped talking and asked them: “Okay, you’re all going to be doctors; I understand that. But how many of you, at some point in your education, got scholarships or grants or any kind of public assistance?” After a brief pause, most hands in the room slowly went up. And Senator Kennedy really leaned into them. “You mean to say,” he said, “now that you got yours, now that the government has helped you to prosper, that you want to pull up behind yourselves the very ladder you used to get to where you are? Are you that selfish?” And this quiet hush filled the room. We read it last week: To those who have been given much, much is required.
Pastor Rick Warren points out that this fifth and final purpose, following Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, and Ministry, is the only one that we can do only here on earth. Those four things I just mentioned will carry on through the ceaseless ages. But here’s number five: You Were Made For a Mission. John 17:18 tells us so: In the same way that You gave Me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world. Notice: “in the world.” We have a ministry here in the church, and we have a mission here in the world. We’re called to serve believers here, and unbelievers out there. This is our spiritual family; out there is our global family. God informs us that we’re connected to both. And Jesus explicitly presses a passport into our hands when He tells us in John 20:21: As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you. Well, sending us to do what? The apostle Paul fills us in on our assignment. Acts 20:24: The most important thing is that I complete my mission, the work the Lord Jesus gave me—to tell people the good news about God’s grace.
So let’s soberly and enthusiastically embrace this as our fifth and final purpose in life: to share the good news.
If the gospel truly is good news, if knowing life isn’t an accident, if knowing our being here has a purpose, if knowing that God created us to love us and to have us love Him . . . if all of that is good news, then we have a moral obligation to tell everyone we can.
Athlete Kurt Warner, former quarterback for the St. Louis Rams, has penned his sports autobiography entitled Keep Your Head Up. He’s a very born-again Christian athlete, one of those types who sometimes irritates sportswriters who ask him: “How did you complete 22 of 26 passes today?” and he’ll answer by giving all credit to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. A sports commentator once said to Dave Dravecky, a Christian baseball pitcher who was always “sharing his faith” in post-game interviews: “You know, when we ask you a question about baseball, we want an answer about baseball. If you want to be a Jesus freak and share your faith, then buy a billboard someplace.”
Anyway, Kurt Warner got hit with this same complaint. Why can’t you Christians shut up about your religion for two minutes? Why do you have to hit everybody over the head with it? And he gave a very poignant answer. “Look,” he said, “to me it’s like this. I’m invited to a party at someone’s house, and it’s fantastic. The host is just such a nice man, such a friend, such an inspiration to me. The party is good, the food is good, the music is good, the friendships are good. I’m having the time of my life. Meanwhile, my 39 teammates are outside someplace in the darkness, lonely, discouraged, wrapped up in their problems. What kind of a teammate would I be, what kind of a friend, if I didn’t at least go to the front door and shout out to them: “You guys! This party is unbelievable! Come on, check it out!”?
Sharing Good News
And this word “evangelism” simply means “good news.” An evangelist shares the good news. By the way, we even get some directions about our territory, where we’re supposed to do this sharing. Jesus said to His disciples, and they were in Jerusalem at the time: You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And you and I can extrapolate that Jesus is saying to us: “Start at home. Start in your own community. Start at the medical building where you work. Start, you teachers, where you are teaching. Start, you dentists, there at your practice and in your neighborhoods.”
When Jesus adds: “Then go to Judea and Samaria,” He’s telling us to also go to the next county, where there’s a different racial mix. Go to neighborhoods different from yours. Go to where there’s poverty and built-in animosity. Cross the border and go into Mexico.
And then finally, Jesus tells us: Get plane tickets and go to foreign countries to share the good news. Go to the Philippines. Go to South America and do a Week of Prayer. You and I live in this incredible age where in 24 hours, and spending maybe two days’ salary, we can be on a plane and literally be around the world in less time than it took for Paul to travel a few miles. We live in an age of incredible opportunities to do mission work. You can make a friend anywhere around the world, and stay in touch with them all the time. Saddleback Church sent out a missionary to some faraway place that only had electricity two hours a day and she wrote back and said: “You ought to see all of us fire up our laptops the minute the juice flows.”
Now, God doesn’t call us to be His prosecuting attorneys and pin people down with our truths. He doesn’t expect us to be His defense attorneys and explain away all the sins and shortcomings of the church. And of course, we’re certainly not people’s judges. All He wants us to be is witnesses. To get up in the box, get sworn in, and tell people we know what we know.
The witness that we take across the street or across the vast oceans needs to be real and persona. We need to lean forward and say to that new friend: “Listen, I want to just tell you right here what a precious friend Jesus has been to me. How He’s changed and directed my life. How He’s made a difference. How He’s personally impacted my decisions, my values, my friendships, my standards, my priorities.” For a witness to be credible, it has to be personal. Our courtrooms don’t allow “hearsay evidence”—I learned that from Law & Order—and nobody else can tell your story. You have something to say in your personal sphere that I could never relate, because it didn’t happen to me.
Let’s remember again that God has a very simple purpose in this world: He simply wants to build a family. A global family. And our part in it, now that we are in it, is to bring other people in. To grow the family. I believe with all my heart that God intends this church to grow. If a year from now, it’s not any bigger than it is now, then we’re doing something wrong. Our focus is wrong. We’re spending our time and talents and money in wrong areas.
So how do we do it right? Here’s our trilogy of missions: Share / Dare / Care. First of all, I must share with those who are in my world. There’s a great Bible healing story in Luke 8 where Jesus drives the demons out of a man. There are enough sons of Lucifer in this one man to drive 2,000 pigs right over a cliff. They themselves admitted: “Our name is Legion.” So this man is hugely grateful; he’s motivated to be a foreign missionary right now. He attends Jesus’ Ministry & Mission Fair and he signs himself up for every single project there is. He wants to play a guitar in the praise band, set up the PA, tear it down, organize potlucks, and go to Manila and pass out Bible lessons. But what does Jesus say to him in verse 39: No, He says, go back home. Just go back home and tell people – people you know, people you’re connected with, people who are your friends—tell those people how much God has done for you.
Prayers With Feet
Back in 2004, there was a powerful story in the Los Angeles Times about the retirement of Rev. Cecil L. Murray, the senior pastor of First AME Church in Los Angeles. For 27 years, he led his congregation of 18,000 people in active, community ministry. The slogan at his church has always been “Prayers With Feet.” They don’t just study the Bible, they build 2,000 low-income housing units. They find people jobs. They expand neighborhood food programs. They run their own community schools; they give away scholarships. And the newspaper quoted Pastor Murray as saying: “We must be a servant church or we are in default. We have to go from being pew workers to public workers.”
And there have been Sundays where this pastor has gotten up in the pulpit and said, “Okay, look out there at our own parking lot. See how many Cadillacs we have. How much money do we spend going to the movies? Or on cosmetics?” And then this killer line: “What you do with what you have reflects on who you are. If you can eat a full meal in front of a hungry person, you ain’t got no religion.”
You know, there’s always this stereotype about witnessing. We say you should witness to the guy who pumps your gas at the gas station, and the lady at the checkout stand at your local grocery store. Now, I don’t discount the possibility that you might be able to do that. A pastor once told how he bought a bag of ice for the church potluck every single Friday afternoon from the same lady at the same Albertson’s checkout aisle, and it costs him the same $2.46. “Maybe someday,” he said, “I’ll tell her that Jesus is the ice that cools off my temper, and that my joy is cubed because I’m a child of God!” But I think this story of the demoniac tells us to find people we’re already connected with, people we know. Which is why we need to have these regular fellowship groups where friendships can thrive.
There’s a misconception that we need to vigorously debunk. We assume that people aren’t interested in religion, that what we say will fall on deaf ears. Let me rejoinder with two ideas. First of all, remember that we live in a nation with a real spiritual heritage and a lot of interest in matters of faith. People are talking about this all the time. Number two, the Gallup people did a survey and found out this: 65 million Americans have no church home, but more than half of those—34 million—said they would attend one if only someone asked. There are 34 million people just waiting for an invitation. Waiting for you to say: “I’m into something that is really changing my life; want to come and check it out?” We’re told that millions might accept the Christian message if someone will simply bring them home and put a meal in front of them.
This same Pastor Rick Warren has quite a bit bigger talent pool than we have, but he has an optometrist in his congregation who used the Four Spiritual Laws as his eye chart. Patients are covering up one eye and reading: “G-o-d l-o-v-e-s m-e a-n-d h-a-s a p-l-a-n f-o-r m-y l-i-f-e.” And the guy says: “Very good, can you read line two where it talks about what a wicked sinner you are?” One new Christian joined Warren’s church because he was a cop, he pulled over one of the church members for speeding, and the guy talked him into becoming born again. I guess the policeman said to him: “You know what? I got you doing 85. I’ll repent if you will.”
But we have to wake up each day saying to the Lord, “Where do You want me to go? Where are my open doors today?” And of course, if we have an attitude of looking for the door, we’re more likely to find it.
There’s an old anecdote about a man who had a favorite hunting story where he had had the starring role. He loved to tell that story. He loved it when a new visitor came over to the house, because that was a virgin audience. So he would gentlyr—or not so gently—steer the conversation over until that story came up. He was a master at easing every thread of discussion over to the great outdoors and then big game and then rifles and then . . . ah, there he was. In fact, as I heard it, if the conversation seemed to be stuck in neutral and he simply could not move the topic from A to B to C and down to H for “hunting,” he would wait until the person was looking away at something else for a minute, and then would clap his hands together very sharply, and cry out: “What was that? A gun? Speaking of guns . . .”
Well, I don’t think we should make ourselves into one-note irritants, or wild-eyed zealots. They used to say about the late Jerry Falwell, as he preached at Thomas Road Baptist Church and on his Moral Majority TV shows: “It doesn’t matter where he starts out in the Bible; he’s going to end up at abortion.” Let’s not do that. If you throw a touchdown pass and reporters ask about it, give them an answer about touchdown passes and six points and going to the Super Bowl. But let’s look for gracious, warm, effective, sensible ways to let Jesus and God’s purpose for us permeate our lives and our relationships. Be ready at all times, it says in I Peter 3:15, to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you.
Here’s goal #2: I must dare to reach beyond my world. So we’re supposed to reach out, to move out, to travel out of our usual circle. Rick Warren points out that the word “go” is in “God,” it’s in “Good News,” it’s in “Gospel.” It’s in Golgotha. If you’re looking for a place to witness, it’s even in “Golf course.”
Maybe you are unaware there are people living very different lives—desperate lives—within a hundred feet of this church. I’ve knocked on some of those door, and what an eye-opener to see what kinds of people are right within the friendship radius of this church. And we have to find common ground with these people who are not like we are, not Adventist, not professional, not what we are and what we think, eat, drink, and wear. We have to reach out, somehow, and try to understand the foreign mindset of people who don’t crave garden burgers, try to understand that peculiar way of thinking. Paul writes, almost in desperation: Whatever each person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him. If you’ve never read the great Adventist missionary book, China Doctor, it tells about this incredible American doctor who went over to China at the turn of the 20th century, put on Chinese robes, grew a pigtail, learned to speak fluent Chinese, lived like the people there, and was a powerful influence on that culture for many decades.
Galatians 6:2: Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. We are stronger than other people; we are more blessed. James 1:27 tells us that the homeless and the widows and those who have had all love stripped out of their lives are our responsibility. I pray for the day when the red states of America, the states where all of the so-called Christian believers are congregating and living and voting, will take care of the orphans and the hungry, will give ghetto kids a good education, will make sure everybody has a bed to sleep in, and doesn’t just vote to ban gay marriage. Where a person’s pro-life concerns don’t evaporate the minute the fetus becomes a baby, is born, and now needs neo-natal health insurance. God needs for every single person within our ranks to be a warm, cheerful, loving and lovable Christian who does care for others. Give a soft answer to the angry one. Where others picket and shout slogans, be a gentle friend. Forgive your enemies. As someone once said, ‘Christianity is to love God and the person in front of you.’”
Goal #3: I must care about the whole world. In Mark 16:15, Jesus, our Lord and Master, gives us this exciting command: Jesus said to His followers, “Go everywhere in the world, and tell the Good News to everyone.” I admire people who have a heart of passion for people eight thousand miles away. It’s so easy to forget about them. Even when you go over there, it’s very easy to come home and get on with our very blessed lives. But do we care about people across the oceans, who will get to know Jesus better if we put some food in their stomachs, and pay the $350 annual tuition fees for a few of them, and then travel over there and give them a fun, vibrant, smile-filled Week of Prayer?
What Goes Around Comes Around
Jesus makes each one of us an iron-clad promise. Mark 10:29: “Let me assure you,” Jesus says, “that no one has ever given up anything . . . for love of Me and to tell others the Good News, who won’t be given back, a hundred times over. He’ll give us adventure and fulfillment, first of all. He’ll take away our self-centeredness and our egos. But there’s also an eternal reward. You have all heard that song, “Thank You For Giving to the Lord.” That scene takes place in heaven, in the shadow of the Tree of Life and with mansions on all sides. And even here, in our present life, I see it most clearly when I look in the mirror. When I look at your lives and the lives of people I hold dear. We are most fulfilled, we are most alive, we are most God-like . . . when we’re serving. When we’re involved in ministry and missions. Jesus tells us in Mark 8:35: If you insist on saving your life, you will lose it. Only those who throw away their lives for My sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live.
In a very personal and wrenching moment of confession, Pastor Rick Warren tells a story about his own dad, who was on his deathbed, essentially in a coma or dream-like state. Rick observed later that you sometimes really find out about a person from their dreams or what they say when all the barriers are down. But his feeble, hallucinating dad kept trying to get out of bed, saying he had a meeting to go to or something. And his family kept saying, “No, Jimmy, you’ve got to lay down. You’re really sick.” And his dad just began repeating over and over, “Save one more for Jesus. Save one more for Jesus.” It was just a heart cry, his final plea to the world. “Save one more for Jesus.” And Rick, whose heart was breaking, was also filled with holy joy; he went over to the corner of the hospital room and just quietly thanked God to have had that kind of a dad.
He then follows up that story with this one. He traveled with some of his staff to China, where they were dialoguing with professors at Peking University, which is called the Harvard of China. There was a provost there, the #2 man at the university, named Professor Joe. Fifty years he’d been there in the engineering department. Now he had cancer and was dying, and Rick told him about his own dad dying of cancer and trusting in God.
Then Rick said: “Professor Joe, I have a story to tell you.” And he told about this dad who took his son and three of his son’s friends to the county fair, the carnival. The dad bought a great big thick roll of “ride tickets,” and at each of the rides he would stop and peel off four of the tickets: one for his own son, and three more for the friends. After about three of these carnival Tilt-a-Whirl rides, he looked down and suddenly, instead of three “friends’ hands” reaching out for tickets, there were four. Some new kid had decided to try to crash the family and get some complimentary tickets too. And he said to the newcomer: “Who are you?” And this little boy said, “Uh, I’m your son’s new best friend. He said if I was his friend, his dad would give me a ticket.” And the dad said later: “Do you think I gave this kid free tickets? You bet I did. He rode free all night.”
And right there in the story, Rick Warren turned to this Chinese professor, this Ph.D. with the cancer all through his body, and said to him: “Professor Joe, your Heavenly Father, God, has a ticket for you to heaven. It’s a free ticket.
You can’t earn it. You can’t buy it. You can’t deserve it. It’s free. Would you like one? The only way to get it is to be a best friend of His Son, Jesus Christ.” And this high-ranking professor, who had been a provost at this Ivy-league university for half a century, who had been raised and indoctrinated in the self-sufficiency of atheism and communism and all of China’s great leaps forward, had tears in his eyes as he said: “Yes, Pastor Rick, I would like one of those tickets.” They held hands over that dinner table and Professor Joe became a part of God’s family.
There’s someone out there right now, at this very moment, and your name is on the door to their heart. Someone local whose personality, whose life circumstances, whose background means that you’re the perfect person to get to them. You’re like Esther in the Bible; God put you here as a divine arrow for the specific purpose of being fired at that precious human target. There’s someone local like that. There’s a person in Judea and Samaria—meaning (TOWN) and (TOWN) and (TOWN)—and God means for you to connect with that person.
Then there’s a child in Thailand, or an orphan in Korea, or a struggling congregation in the Philippines, or Africa . . . and your name is on a banner over there too. God needs your presence there, your dollars there, your career expertise and ability there. Your singing talent in a praise team. Your computer skills. Your hugs and your kind words of sympathy.
I heard a sermon once that played off the final scenes in the film Titanic. These half-empty lifeboats went into the water. Nearby, just 50 yards away, the cries of the freezing victims were slowly ebbing into a cemetery of silence. There was room on the boats. There were empty spaces on the boats with the names of potential candidates for salvation. But the boats didn’t go back. They stayed in the safe waters of separation, of self-interest, of protecting the status quo.
And this preacher summed up by saying: “Man, I am never again going to just paddle past someone who needs Jesus. I’m going to look for open doors of witnessing and I’m going to walk through those doors every time. I’m going to have my flashlight on as I scan the cold Atlantic water for someone I can rescue. ‘Save one more for Jesus.’”
This is part 7 of a 8-part series 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 8
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